A Last-Minute Bleg: What to Do in D.C. With the Kids?

Photo: iStockphoto

We’ll be spending a couple of days this week in Washington, D.C. It’ll be my kids’ first trip. (They are 10 and 9.) Am looking for non-obvious things to do and good things to eat as well. Staying downtown without a car, FWIW. Will gladly throw in a piece of Freakonomics swag for the best suggestion that gets put to use. Thanks in advance!


International Spy Museum.. hands down!


If the weather is nice, go to the National Zoo. It's free, and the Panda exhibit alone makes it worth the trip. Also, if you are there between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., there is a good chance that the orangutans might be using the O Line, an overhead cable system that crosses one of the zoo's paths and allows the orangutans to go from their exhibit to a study center. http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/ThinkTank/OLine/default.cfm

You can take the Metro's Redline to get there.


Newseum. Spy Museum. Eat at Ben's Chili Bowl ( but just once, more than that may kill you). American History @ Smithsonian renovated top to bottom a couple of years back.


This one may be obvious, but if you haven't done the international spy museum before, it's great for adults and kids alike.

The Bureau of Printing and Engraving is pretty cool as well, and is a bit more off the beaten path, I'd say. I'm sure a 10- and 9-year-old would be interested in seeing stacks and stacks of money being printed.


Air & Space Museum


Really, the best of the obvious things over just a couple of days wouldn't leave you enough time for the obscure anyway. We were there for a long weekend last year with 2 9-yr-olds & I could've used 3 more days just to hit the highlights with them. They really liked it a lot.


The International Spy Museum is convenient and fun. And the United States Botanic Garden (next to the Capitol Building) is great, free, and not overwhelmingly large (i.e. it don't test one's attention span). Also, I imagine the weather is perfect for it this time of year.


Georgetown Cupcake (3301 M St NW)


There's a lot to do at the National Building Museum. It's close to chinatown, and theirs tons of kid workshops. THe place is also really beautiful. One of DC's gems.


Visit the LongView Gallery to see the DCist Exposed photo exhibit, which highlights various aspects of D.C. not usually for tourists. Maine Avenue Seafood Market is always good for eating and looking out at the Potomac. Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown. The magnolias should be in bloom at the National Arboretum.


One of the more memorable places I went to in DC was the Smithsonian Postal Museum. It might sound kind of lame, but it was pretty cool. They had exhibits on stuff like the Pony Express and let you make your own custom post card.

Zach Girod

I am not sure if it is obvious or not but given your interests I would think I trip to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing would be a must. It is not like other museums where you we free to wonder, it is a ~45min tour of how they print money. It is actually very cool and you see like $18M being printed during your tour.

Here is a link for information on getting tickets (they are free): http://www.moneyfactory.gov/tours/washingtondctours.html


I am a Brit living in London so this info comes from a fellow tourist in your fine capital. We were in DC during an unexpected April cold snap a couple of years ago and needed something indoors but different (having done Museum Mall.) We found the National Building Museum http://www.nbm.org/ in an offbeat location near Judiciary Square. It had a room with a stack of building blocks and suggestions for construction projects that kept two kids (c.6 and 10 at the time) and even a one-year-old fully occupied. Maybe they learned something about architecture, too.

I hope that room is still there (hard to see from the website) but in any event it seems to have an exhibition of 15 building models made entirely out of Lego, which always goes down well.

I'd take them there again. My now-12-year-old does amateur animation so I guess there would be a crossover.

For the adults it is a stunningly beautiful building, both inside and out with a nice and decently priced cafe.



Lunch at the Native American Museum is delicious, but a little pricey.


Canal boat pulled by a mule:


Bonus for excellent cupcake place across the street:


VB in NV

Food Court at Union Station


*grab lunch at the smithsonian american indian museum, the food court is filled with authentic food from tribes all over the US (be aware it isn't the most cost effective option)

*National Portrait Gallery has all the president's portraits. it also has the painting of G.Washington used on the 1 dollar bill. the top floor is filled with some fantastic abstract pieces including this one: http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=71478

*the zoo is great and fun for all ages

*do a tour of the capitol it might sound obvious but it's an amazing building but book tickets ahead of time, use the capitol website not the congressional office

*Bureau of Printing and Engraving is great too but you need tickets, still it's amazing to see all that money being printed

*the food truck scene in dc is really blooming and with the warm weather they are always out, head to farragut square and you'll find most of them

*ride the yellow line into va and you'll get a great view of the monuments



Rent bicycles from the new Capital Bikeshare system, which may inspire the aspiring economists to wonder how the pricing structure and rider length rules encourage/discourage certain behaviors, or the complications inherent in keeping both bicycles and dock spaces available throughout the dispersed 110 station system.

Take them on a ride up the Pennsylvania Ave cycletrack to the northbound 15th St cycletrack, which will allow them to enjoy the sights of official DC, from the Capitol Bldg to the White House, the Treasury bldg, etc etc.

James M

A non-obvious thing or two from a DC resident...

1) Spy Museum and Newseum are pretty good, but while you are in that part of downtown, make sure you check out the National Portrait Gallery, specifically the Kogod Courtyard- a very cool space finished a few years back.

2) Head to the Dupont Circle neighborhood for brunch at Kramerbooks and Afterwords- a kitschy bookstore with good, family-friendly sit down food options.

3) Take a walk in Battery Kemble Park or Glover-Archibold Parkway (accessible from McArthur Blvd NW- nice urban parks not nearly as crowded as Rock Creek / the Mall with cool Civil War era history.


The O Street Mansion (just 2 blocks from the Dupont Circle metro stop on the red line) is a unique spot that even many DC residents know about, but it's a great place for kids to express & see what it means to be creative. It's hard to describe briefly, check it out at the link below!